Why is Norway's population so small

More about Norway history

An overview

Norway's history is shaped by the constant changes in the rulers, the harsh living conditions in the far north, but also by the proud inhabitants who love their country.

about history

Learn more about the history of the Norwegians - from the Stone Age and its first settlement areas through the epochs of the seizure of power by other countries to modern times.



Review - Stone Age to the first centuries AD

Remains of Stone Age houses show that people lived in Norway more than 10,000 years ago, where they hunted seals and reindeer. Some of the settlements were on the fjords and bays of the North Sea at the northernmost tip of Europe. As the climate warmed and the glaciers receded, hunters migrated from the east into southern Norway and moved down the coast. Eventually they gave up the nomadic life and began to cultivate the few fertile areas. Further north, where agriculture was impossible, the abundant fish stocks tempted people to settle down. Stone tools and weapons were soon replaced by better and more practical bronze implements, but the way of life changed little. The small communities were self-sustaining, but if necessary defended themselves to defend their territory.

In the first centuries AD - the Iron Age still ruled these northern climes - militant tribal leaders expanded their sphere of influence and turned the country into a patchwork of kingdoms.


The Vikings - 9th to 11th centuries AD

In Norway, with its mountains, fjords and islands, people have always made better progress on the water than on land. In this way, the inhabitants became the most skilled seafarers in the world - a quality that is still attributed to them. The Viking era began shortly before 800 AD. With long, flat ships equipped with oars and sails, the Scandinavian robbers sailed the coastal waters and rivers of Europe, plundered monasteries and cities, took the inhabitants with them as slaves and pillaged everything they found on their way. What led to this sudden departure? This is still a mystery. Overpopulation or Bad Harvests? The inheritance law that only took into account the eldest son? The advances in shipbuilding and navigation? Perhaps it was also the lure of easy and rich prey after the first attack (793); The victim was the wealthy Lindisfarne Monastery on a small (now British) island in the North Sea. After that, the Vikings expanded their raids. They came from different parts of Scandinavia and specialized in different areas: The Norwegians (or Normans) occupied the Orkney Islands, the Hebrides, Ireland and north-west England. Their fleets set up bases, then the settlers followed to cultivate the conquered land. Norway and Greenland were also discovered and cultivated by the Norwegians. Pioneers made their way to North America around the year 1000, but were apparently only able to establish short-lived colonies. The effects of the Viking era weren't all bad: they opened trade routes and spread their knowledge of metalworking and other handicrafts across Europe. European literature was also influenced by their way of storytelling, the sagas. The Irish adopted certain art forms from them. The raids and conquests ended in the 11th century. It is no coincidence that this was also the time when the Norwegians were converted to Christianity: the church put pressure on the Viking leaders to give up their violent way of life.

Unity and Christianity - 11th to 13th centuries AD

Until the 9th century Norway was split up into small kingdoms. Harald Hårfagri (»fair hair«) succeeded in temporarily unifying the country in the 10th century. But it lost cohesion again when several leaders converted to Christianity while others clung to their old beliefs.
Olav II had almost succeeded in founding a Christian empire when he was killed in battle in 1030. Miracles could be observed at his first grave near Trondheim. He was canonized; Christianity became the official religion. Still, the turbulent times continued: King Harald Hardråde ("the Strict") strengthened the border with Sweden, founded Oslo and then invaded England, where he was killed in a battle in 1066. The victor, King Harold II, was defeated a little later in the Battle of Hastings Wilhelm the Conqueror, a descendant of the Norman Viking leader Rollo.
The central government was organized efficiently under Håkon IV (1217–63), and Norwegian culture flourished. The rule over Norway and Greenland was confirmed. A trade deal with England was profitable, and Håkon's son Magnus Lagabøte ("Law Improver") ended the conflict with Scotland by selling him the Hebrides and the Isle of Man, which had belonged to Norway since the Viking Age. He promoted German and Baltic traders of the Hanseatic League.


Under foreign rule - 14th to 18th centuries

A series of defeats in the 14th century ended Norway's independence for 500 years. The plague struck in 1349 and killed more than half of the population.
Dynastic marriages had already led to an alliance with Sweden, with Norway playing the role of junior partner. But the partnership broke up. Then King Håkon VI married. the daughter of the King of Denmark, and her son inherited both rulers. In 1397 all three Scandinavian countries were united by the Kalmar Union. In 1523 Sweden left the alliance; in Norway, Denmark retained power for another three centuries. Ownership changed hands: Norway and Greenland became Danish colonies, and the Orkney and Shetland Islands pledged to Scotland. The church alone had remained independent, but in 1536 the Reformation spread. Although the bishops proclaimed the independence of Catholic Norway, the Protestant movement was unstoppable. The church princes were replaced by Danish Lutherans; their language was henceforth official, and Norwegian culture withered.
Christian IV of Denmark and Norway broke the vicious cycle of exploitation and neglect. After the discovery of the Kongsberg silver mines in the early 17th century, he spent a lot of time in his northern province. Oslo was rebuilt after a conflagration and renamed Christiania. During his reign, the port of Kristiansand was built. Trade picked up; the export of dried and salted fish to the countries of southern Europe flourished. In the 18th century, wood, ore and shipbuilding made the country a fortune.


Change of power - 19th century

In the Napoleonic campaigns, Denmark became involved in the war on France's side and, after being defeated by Great Britain and Sweden in 1814, was forced to withdraw from Norway. The Norwegians, delighted with their supposed freedom, adopted their own constitution on May 17, 1814.
But within a few months they were forced into a new alliance, now with Sweden. A former marshal of Napoleon, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, ascended the throne as Charles XIV John in Stockholm. During the 19th century Norway fought for its independence. While the economic decline was not solely the result of neglect, life was extremely hard. The Norwegians were quite autonomous, but all complaints and requests had to be sent to distant Stockholm. The example of the revolutions in Europe fueled discontent.
Emigration seemed to be a solution, and a mass exodus ensued. Between 1866 and 1875, more than 100,000 Norwegians immigrated to the United States, and in the 50 years leading up to World War I, another 750,000 people looked for a new future overseas. The culture flourished again in the old homeland, which aroused patriotic feelings and a sense of national togetherness. In literature, the works of Knut Hamsun and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in particular contributed to this, in music those of Edvard Grieg. The playwright Henrik Ibsen, on the other hand, had no sympathy for the independence movement. Although he created a national theater, he was much more committed to a unified Scandinavia.
Around 1880 the Norwegian parliament, the Stortinget, took the initiative to "cut the cord" from Sweden. Until then, the House of Representatives had been little more than a debating club, whose decisions were often overturned by the king. In the upcoming conflicts - it was about foreign relations (a purely Swedish matter since 1814) and shipping, Norway's lifeline - the politicians persisted and wore down Swedish intransigence.

Another nation - 20th century

Eventually in 1905 the union with Sweden was dissolved and the Norwegian people voted for independence by an overwhelming majority. The parliament elected Prince Charles of Denmark to the throne as King Håkon VII. Although the wave of emigration to North America did not ebb, the economy expanded. Norway, built the fourth largest merchant fleet in the world, but lost - despite its neutrality - half of it in World War I.
The Second World War brought even worse strokes of fate. In April 1940 German troops invaded Norway and immediately occupied the most important ports up to Narvik. In doing so, they wanted to forestall the Allies, who were also interested in the ore shipping facilities in the north. The only option left for the king was to flee to exile in London.
After two months the whole country was occupied. In Oslo, the leader of a fascist group, Vidkun Quisling, took over government. His name later became the common name for traitors.
Many Norwegians tried to get into Scotland by the dangerous sea route to fight on the side of the Allies - along with most of their merchant fleet and navy. They participated in acts of sabotage against targets at home. Hydroelectric plants and aluminum refineries were blown up.The sinking of a freighter loaded with heavy water from the Rjukan chemical works also went down in history. This act thwarted the atomic bomb plans of the Germans, who reacted with violent reprisals. Captured members of the sabotage squads and resistance fighters were executed and tens of thousands of people were sent to concentration camps. Shortly before the final surrender, the German troops finally began to withdraw.

Peace and Prosperity - 1945 to the Present

Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945; a month later, King Håkon returned to a Norway that was in a state of delirium. Quisling was shot together with his fascist party colleagues. Much of the land was in ruins, but the locals set about rebuilding with iron determination, so that production and trade surpassed pre-war levels within four years. Norway joined NATO in 1949. However, on the condition that no nuclear weapons would be stationed on national territory in peacetime.
In 1957 Håkon VII died after 52 years of reign. He was succeeded by his equally popular son, who ascended the throne as King Olav V. He was followed in 1991 by Harald V. The Norwegians are still keen patriots: the national holiday, May 17th, is a carnival with parades in all villages and towns. All of Oslo seems to be gathering in front of the palace to greet the monarch and royal family. In the 1970s, the economy changed completely with the discovery of oil deposits in the North Sea. Thanks to the lucrative oil business, a generous social system, an excellent infrastructure and a future fund for the time after the oil boom were created. Still, Norwegians pay high taxes. In 1972 the people rejected full membership in the EC in a vote. This decision was confirmed in 1994 with a majority vote against joining the EU. In 2005 Norway celebrated the 100th anniversary of its independence.

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